Defending the Frontline: Protecting Medical Workers During the Coronavirus Crisis

Albert Lou

The World Health Organization enshrines the highest attainable standard of health from any given nation as a fundamental right for every human being, regardless of the circumstances; something that has become especially difficult to achieve during these pressing times. COVID-19 has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, a mere fraction of the millions of total cases across the globe. However, there is a group of individuals who willingly place themselves in harm’s way, exponentially increasing their susceptibility to the virus, in an effort to save the lives of others: medical workers.

Yet still, those working in the healthcare sector make up a disproportionate percentage of deaths caused by COVID-19 as hospitals have become an obvious hotspot for viral transmission. And as the entire planet enters an economic recession, the “frontline” of defense is receiving fewer and fewer support. It may be necessary for governments to utilize more of their executive powers to control the daily functioning of society, but they must do so in a fashion that maintains the safety, security, and basic human rights of workers in the health industry.

Italy, which quickly climbed to the global highest in number of infections and deaths, serves as an example of a need for increased protection of medical workers. Almost 10% of Italy’s COVID-19 cases are made up by its already meager medical force; an understandable figure considering they are famished of personal protective equipment and have received little support even after months of calls for a more robust supply chain to be put in place.

In the UK, another nation with medical workers who compose a blunt of COVID-19 casualties, three-quarters of medical staff who responded to a poll were worried that they weren’t being given enough protection. Another third of respondents noted that they were overworked, undercompensated, and felt that their health was both physically and mentally deteriorating. While the government has now made efforts to increase their supply of personal protective equipment, the health industry states that they have been asking for help since December and that any support now may be too little too late.

Even in a country that is doing far better than nations which have been hit much harder, Canadian doctors have begun to question where they should draw the line between their occupation and their own personal safety after seeing how the virus has impacted the healthcare industries of places like New York City and Lombardy. It is unsound to even imagine the risk that healthcare workers are witnessing to consider walking off the job, and even worse to imagine how much more dangerous that could be for patients.

It is completely understandable that governments may have difficulty allocating funds and distributing supplies to various industries during times like this. However, the world is really asking for too much from medical workers, and we must acknowledge their personal safety and health as an absolute priority and their human right. If healthcare is allocated to those who need it most, there are few who are more deserving of it now than those who deliver healthcare themselves.